October is LGBT History Month. To honor transgender people and their unique histories, I will be featuring transgender people and parents of transgender children all month long. Through sharing their stories, I hope to raise awareness of this amazing population of people who still struggle for basic human rights.
By Kat Carpita, mother of three, one of whom is transgender and the inspiration for her blog, Dandelion Fuzz
My son, Kris, is turning 22 years old this week and as I tend to do at this time of year, I turn towards reflection. This will be the 4th birthday since Kris came out as transgender and this one is hitting hard.
I can't speak for all parents of transgender kids who came out in their late teens. Everyone's experience is different. And to be completely honest, I don't fully believe the ones who proclaim to have a fairy tale perfect coming out/transitioning experience with complete love and acceptance by all with a completely deliriously happy transitioned child with a life complete with genuine friends, supportive family and secure education/job and the entire world at their fingertips. Wow, that's a lot of complete for one sentence! (And only a little completely undisguised sarcasm.)
22 years ago I was expecting my second child, who would be born Kerri and become Kris 18 years later.
I always wanted a daughter to do all those girly things with. I'm not sure where those preconceived notions came from because I certainly was not a frilly girly girl, my mother did not do the things that flitted through my dreams with me and I really didn't like those things. Along with all those unrealistic hopes, I had a picture of this daughter in my mind- a blonde hair, blue eyed quiet little girl, probably even wearing a cute pink dress- not unlike the child I actually was. While Kerri was born with a full head of hair, it was dark and it was with disbelief that we watched it change from straight dark brown to red curls, on her head. That should have been my first clue that I should just throw all that fluffy frou frou crap out the door. My little red haired green eyed daughter had a larger than life personality and a mind of her own.
I had no problem casting aside the fantasy child and accepting the reality of my little spitfire. She was feistier as a toddler than I had been for most of my life. She always seemed to be fighting battles that none of us could begin to imagine. Little did we know.
When I look back at the 18 years that I thought I had a daughter, I have such mixed feelings. It was really hard being Kerri's mom. I never felt that deep connection that I saw my friends have with their daughters. I always felt like there was something really wrong with me that although I loved Kerri more than anything, there was something not quite right with us. We were missing something and yet on paper Kerri added up. Highly gifted, healthy, creative..... maybe socially immature but that was to be expected with gifted children. And yet, Kerri just wasn't like other kids.
We struggled through those 18 years, especially the last 5 (the TEEN years)! I did anything and everything I could to try to help Kerri through puberty and life. On one hand, I had no problem learning the pattern of Kerri's way of thinking, her unique sense of style..... but then I just didn't get her. I would wonder why she couldn't just be like other girls? Why did everything have to be so difficult????? And then I would feel guilty for thinking those things.
Upon finding out that my daughter had actually been a son all along, I admit that my emotions went haywire. After some really challenging years of feeling like a failure as a mother for not understanding her own daughter, I added not even knowing what was going on with my own child to the mix. I blamed myself for everything. The things Kris had tried to tell us even though he didn't even know what it was he was trying to tell us. The things that I didn't even know were going on. The things I should have known but couldn't. You name it. I took it on.
And through it all, I just wanted to help my kid become the person he always knew he was. And being a mom, I took that big bag of emotions and stuffed it in the back of my mind to figure out later because my child needed me. Maybe I was hurting. Maybe I was mad. Maybe I was a million other emotions that I couldn't face. But none of that mattered while I was needed to take care of Kris and make sure he was okay, along with his brothers and their father- Over night I became the only girl in an all boy house and losing that girl HURT. You can't really appreciate how very much our world is defined by gender until you are close to someone who is transgender.
I lost my girl without warning and I had this boy in her place. A stranger who I did not know who I was supposed to just accept and love unconditionally- hey, kind of like what happens with a new baby! I could work with that. I understood that it might take time to get used to the idea of K as a boy and not a girl but I would do it because it was what Kris needed. I had spent the last few years with Kerri- fearing that I might lose my child to suicide. HA! Once again, little did I know. My incredibly messed up teenage daughter had better odds than my transgender son when it came to the risk of suicide.
And so I focused on Kris and making him whole and getting him what he needed.
While all of this was happening, I realized that somewhere along the way, I had stopped looking at Kris and seeing a daughter or a son. I was really seeing my CHILD. I was able to see the person who was always there and I saw hope.
I still miss the daughter I thought I had. I understand why she had to go....if she ever really existed at all. But I miss her. I loved her and raised her for over 18 years. We went through the trenches together, she and I.
Since Kris came out things haven't been easier. It wasn't like the dark stormy sky cleared up to reveal a blue sky filled with white fluffy clouds and sunshine. It's been different. And it's been a different kind of hard. But there are sunny beautiful days mixed up with the stormy ones and we'll take it.
When I look at Kris, I see a work in progress. He hasn't found his way yet but how can he when he's still trying to figure out who he is. He's got a long way to go but he'll get there in his own sweet time. And I will be there somewhere helping, watching, and loving him.
And as his birthday approaches, I will reflect on my changeling child. I will miss the daughter I don't have. I will love the son that I do have. And I will CHERISH the child I've always had.
This piece was originally published on my blog, Dandelion Fuzz.
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Special thanks to Mary Tyler Mom who inspired this unique and beautiful way of honoring LGBT History Month.